The Toothpaste Tube
Over at Kevin Drum's shop (h/t Atrios), there was a discussion going on last month about the obsession in this country with the very rare crime of stranger abduction/molestation. It's so bad that certain school districts, even in exquisitely-safe areas, won't let their kids walk to school: Any kid that doesn't take the bus must be accompanied to school by a parent or trusted adult — even if the school is within sight of the kid's home.
I was inclined at first to say: "No wonder why the PNAC/Bush neocon bullshit about 'we can't let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud' worked so well. The insane fixation on a very rare crime is turning us into a nation of bedwetters who freak at the sight of our own shadows."
Then I started to wonder: Is this just an outward manifestation of our mounting anxiety about the future, and the fact that life for most of us generally isn't as good as it was for our parents when they were our age? Yeah, they didn't have BlackBerrys — but they did have savings accounts; we don't. They weren't perpetually a missed paycheck or two away from financial ruin.
Consider this: Real wages peaked around 1973 and have been dropping for the most part ever since; they bottomed out in 1996, then started to rise as Clinton's 1993 undoing of the Reagan/Bush tax cuts giveaways started making itself felt — but then immediately started to drop again once Bush Junior's 2003 tax cuts for the rich went into effect. (Another, non-PDF chart on this can be found here, but since this is from November of 2001 it doesn't include data for the last five years. But it is easy to read and understand, so I'm citing it.)
This decades-long overall drop was masked by the rise, thanks to feminism, of two-income families, but during the Bush years the drop has been steady as the gap between the very rich and the rest of us grows bigger and bigger. Yet the media and BushCo tell us that the economy is FINE! (Well it is, if you're rich.)
I strongly suspect that there's a mental tension created in average folks by the difference between what The Wise Media People tell them is the case and what they actually are experiencing themselves. This tension manifests itself in fear — and if they don't want to openly admit that their economic situation is screwed, the fear transfers to something else: WMD, child predators, the black family moving in down the street.
It's like a tube of toothpaste: Suppressing the real anxiety felt over our having it worse than our parents did (and the knowledge that our kids are likely to have it worse still unless some changes are made to bolster the American working and middle classes) doesn't make that anxiety go away: It just chooses another place to manifest its effects. And if the tube is sealed — if we aren't allowed to acknowledge a rational and evidence-based fear, and to admit the validity of what we see with our own two eyes — then that anxiety is ripe to manifest itself in irrational fears.
And the disgusting thing about the Billionaire Boys Club that is the GOP is that they have used this fear — a fear which their own economic policies created — to stampede Americans to act against their own best interests. (Scarecrow did an excellent job discussing the Republicans' stoking and manipulation of our fear in this post here.)
There are signs that this is changing. The recent elections, and the polls, show that the gaslight just doesn't work the way it once did.
Part of the reason for that, dear reader, is you. Yes, you.
You knew that the yellow liquid being trickled down on you from above wasn't liquid gold. You dared question what you were told. You dared to refuse to be stampeded. And by keeping pressure on our elected officials and our media, you're helping to undo the decades of gaslighting with the big wide-open windows of accountability.
And for that, your children and your children's children will owe you a big, big debt. Make sure they do a good job picking out your nursing homes.